11 January, 2009

Gaza: Escalating Out of Control

The attack on Gaza has gotten so extreme that the Wall Street Journal's op-ed pages - yes, the conservative-loving, reality-hating WSJ op-ed pages - carry an editorial from a Palestinian-American with the uncompromising title "Israel Is Committing War Crimes."

George Bisharat makes a strong case:

Israel had not suffered an "armed attack" immediately prior to its bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Since firing the first Kassam rocket into Israel in 2002, Hamas and other Palestinian groups have loosed thousands of rockets and mortar shells into Israel, causing about two dozen Israeli deaths and widespread fear. As indiscriminate attacks on civilians, these were war crimes. During roughly the same period, Israeli forces killed about 2,700 Palestinians in Gaza by targeted killings, aerial bombings, in raids, etc., according to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.

But on June 19, 2008, Hamas and Israel commenced a six-month truce. Neither side complied perfectly. Israel refused to substantially ease the suffocating siege of Gaza imposed in June 2007. Hamas permitted sporadic rocket fire -- typically after Israel killed or seized Hamas members in the West Bank, where the truce did not apply. Either one or no Israelis were killed (reports differ) by rockets in the half year leading up to the current attack.

Israel then broke the truce on Nov. 4, raiding the Gaza Strip and killing a Palestinian. Hamas retaliated with rocket fire; Israel then killed five more Palestinians. In the following days, Hamas continued rocket fire -- yet still no Israelis died. Israel cannot claim self-defense against this escalation, because it was provoked by Israel's own violation.

An armed attack that is not justified by self-defense is a war of aggression. Under the Nuremberg Principles affirmed by U.N. Resolution 95, aggression is a crime against peace.

Israel, however, has decided that it has not yet committed enough war crimes. The UN Resolution calling for a cease-fire - supported by all members of the Security Council save the United States - has been met with the same response Israel typically gives to such Resolutions. They've ignored it:
Hamas and Israel competed with one another to see who could refuse most quickly to abide by the Resolution, and now -- as Haaretz reports this morning -- this is Israel's response:

The Israel Air Force has dropped leaflets on the Gaza Strip warning residents that it plans to escalate its two-week-old offensive.

The army says it has dropped the fliers throughout Gaza. It says the notices are meant as a "general warning."

The notice says Israel is about to begin a "new phase in the war on terror." It says it will "escalate" an operation that already has killed more than 800 Palestinians.

It's hard to imagine, short of full-on indiscriminate civilian bombing, how this attack can be "escalated." Is there any limit at all to the number of civilian deaths that Israel is willing to cause? And, given that Palestinians are not allowed to leave Gaza and have no safe haven within the Gaza Strip, what is the point of dropping leaflets warning the civilian population of "escalation" other than, as Moyers put it, to sow further terror?

Hamas, of course, is not going to back down. How can they, when hundreds of civilians are being killed and thousands more wounded? Glenn Greenwald, in the same post linked above, gives us the numbers:
According to the Report issued on Thursday (.pdf) by the U.N.'s Humanitarian Affairs Office, more than 1/3 of overall Palestinian deaths are children (34% of the almost 800 total deaths), and a similar percentage of the more than 3,000 wounded are also children (34.8%). To put that in perspective, note that the Russian invasion of Georgia -- which was vehemently and universally condemned in the U.S. as an excessive and brutal response to Georgia's assault on South Ossetia -- resulted, according to the Georgian government, in total deaths on the Georgia side of 405 (220 of whom were civilians) and total number of civilians wounded between 200-250 (see page 10 of this Amnesty International Report -- .pdf).
But Georgia didn't have a powerful neoconservative lobby and a long history of American largess. The United States has no intention of stepping in to try to halt the violence this time. Quite the contrary:
The U.S. military has sought to hire a merchant ship to deliver ammunition to Israel this month, tender documents show, but the Pentagon said the shipment was not linked to the conflict in the Gaza Strip.

A Pentagon spokesman said the ammunition was for a U.S. stockpile in Israel. The U.S. military pre-positions stockpiles in some countries in case it needs supplies at short notice.

In the tender documents, the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command (MSC) said the ship was to carry 325 standard 20-foot containers of what is listed as "ammunition" on two separate journeys from the Greek port of Astakos to the Israeli port of Ashdod in mid-to-late January.


The request for the ship was made on Dec. 31, with the first leg of the charter to arrive no later than Jan. 25 and the second at the end of the month.

The tender for the vessel follows the hiring of a commercial ship to carry a much larger consignment of ordnance in December.
Do you believe the "it's just for our own stockpile. Nothing to do with the Gaza war - please move along!" bullshit spewing from the Pentagon? If you do, I suggest you have a look at those dates one more time. Then review the history of the past eight years, in which every official denial has turned out to be a lie. They lied us into Iraq, and now they want to lie us into provisioning Israel with enough ordnance to destroy as many Palestinian civilians as they like.

They excuse it by claiming that Hamas is nothing more than a terrorist organization, ignoring the fact that it also happens to be the duly-elected government of Gaza:

[Deputy White House Press Secretary] MR. STANZEL: Our policy has been clear, in terms of not dealing with Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organization that took over the Gaza -- Gaza in -- about 18 months ago. So our position has been clear.

Isn't that just breathtaking? Hamas "took over" Gaza by being elected in a landslide, in a democratic election the U.S. pushed for. But, of course, they're terrorists and so winning an election means they took over by brute force rather than popular will.

I wonder what that says about Israel's democratically-elected government?

But brute force can turn self-defense into state terrorism. It's what the U.S. did in Vietnam, with B-52s and napalm, and again in Iraq, with shock and awe. By killing indiscriminately - the elderly, kids, entire families by destroying schools and hospitals — Israel did exactly what terrorists do and exactly what Hamas wanted. It spilled the blood that turns the wheel of retribution.

Hardly had Israeli tank fire killed and injured scores at a UN school in Gaza than a senior Hamas leader went on television to announce, "The Zionists have legitimized the killing of their children by killing our children." Already attacks on Jews in Europe are escalating — a burning car crashes into a synagogue in Southern France, a fiery object is hurled through a window in Sweden, venomous anti-Semitic graffiti appears across the continent, and arsonists strike in London.

How many civilians will they have to kill before they, also, are a "terrorist organization" that "took over" Israel? How much more violent retaliation will their war of aggression have to inspire before the lesson sinks in that war of this nature begets more war, not security and certainly not peace?

The reports coming out of Gaza are horrific. One wonders just how much worse they would be if Israel wasn't blocking reporters' access and killing the ones already there:

The Israeli effort to control access to news from Gaza is escalating along with its military actions. While the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the government to allow eight reporters to cross into Gaza, that order has not been enforced. Now media workers who were already in Gaza have become targets of military attacks.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) which represents over 600,000 journalists in 123 countries worldwide is calling on the world’s media to protest the Israeli blockade on the media.

The IFJ call comes as another Palestinian journalist was reported killed - the fourth victim of recent Israeli military action in Gaza. Eyhab Al Wahidi, who worked as a cameraman for the Palestinian Broadcast Corporation in Gaza, was killed with his wife and mother-in-law yesterday when Israeli troops shelled their home in Gaza city. The family's children were injured.


The Committee to Protect Journalists recounts the attack on the building housing most of the broadcast media that remains in Gaza:

at least one journalist was injured in an Israeli air strike while filing a report from the roof of the al-Johara Tower, an eight-story building in Gaza City which houses more than 20 international news organizations, according to multiple news outlets...

"The Israeli military knows the location of TV facilities houses and news bureaus in Gaza. It is simply unacceptable that working journalists and their offices should come under fire in this way," said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "Journalists enjoy protections under international law in military campaigns such as the one in Gaza. Israel must cease its attacks on the media immediately."

But they have to do things to protect their citizens, right? And Israelis are relieved and happy that their government is finally taking the war to the terrorists, I'm sure.

Let's ask a woman from the Israeli town of Sderot, which has for the past seven years dealt with rocket attacks from Hamas:

Not in my name and not for me you went to war. The current bloodbath in Gaza is not in my name and not for my security. Destroyed homes, bombed schools, thousands of new refugees - are not in my name and not for my security. In Gaza there is no time for burial ceremonies now, the dead are put in refrigerators in twos, because there is no room. Here their bodies lay, policemen, children, and our nimble reporters play acrobatically with Hasbara strategies in view of "the images that speak for themselves". Pray tell me, what is there to "explain"? [Hasbara literally means "explanation" - Assaf] What is there to explain?

I got myself neither security nor quiet from this war. After such an essential calm, that helped all of us heal emotionally and mentally and experience some sanity again [Nomika is referring here to the first 5 months of cease-fire, which were observed by both sides - Assaf] - our leaders have brought us back to the same wounded, anxiety-ridden place. To the same humiliating, terrified sprinting to shelter.

Don't mistake me. Hamas is an evil, terrible terror organization. Not just for us. First and foremost to its own citizens. But beyond that wretched leadership there are human beings. With hard labor, ordinary people on both sides build small bridges of human gestures. This is what the Kol Aher, a group of people from Sderot and elsewhere on the Gaza border of which I am a member, has been doing. We have tried to lay down a human route to the hearts of our neighbors. While we have won a five-month calm, they continued to suffer under the siege. A young man told us he does not wish to marry and have kids, because in Gaza there is no future for children. A single airplane bomb drowns these human gestures in depths of blood and despair.

If not in her name, then, in whose is Israel killing? What justifies not merely an escalation but a continuation of this war?


Cujo359 said...

I can think of an alternative explanation for the DoD ammunition shipments - it's another of those things the Bush Administration is doing before it can't anymore. Whether that ammo is intended to be used by the Israelis or just as one less logistical hurdle to our jumping into the conflict, though, it's a worrisome development.

Over at Sic Semper Tyrannis, Patrick Lang has asked his commenters to contribute reports of atrocities in this conflict. So far, reports of Israeli atrocities outnumber Hamas' by a wide margin.

Anonymous said...

I did type a lengthy post, but then thought "Why not bolster my blog" so


I really can't see a way forward until both sides agree the '48 borders.